A beer belly isn’t just a leftover from the college days. Even if you aren’t downing Bud Lights (or calorific IPAs) like you used to, chances are your beer belly has grown. Age, stress, dietary habits, and missing out on exercise are all to blame, sure. But even if you reverse course on all this, getting a flat stomach again can be next to impossible. Getting rid of excess fat, however, is worth the effort. Because it doesn’t matter what name you have for your stomach fat — beer belly, pot belly, spare tire — too much abdominal fat is flat out unhealthy.
“The problem with beer belly, or abdominal obesity, is that it’s correlated with a lot of health complications like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, and fatty liver disease,” says Pouya Shafipour, M.D., a family medicine specialist with Paloma Health. “Belly fat is also associated with a higher risk of mortality. So, it’s perhaps a physical feature you are not thrilled about, but also one that can shorten your lifespan.” Here’s your game plan.
What Causes a Beer Belly
Abdominal obesity is a two-pronged problem, with some factors you can control and some you can’t. First, one of the causes is getting older, which, unless you’re Benjamin Button, you can’t do much about. “When we reach a certain age, body fat distribution changes in both men and women,” Shafipour says. “It is also much easier to store extra energy as fat.” This fat shift can happen earlier than you may think, with increasing belly fat accumulation starting as early as age 30.
Lifestyle choices can also impact belly fat, and those you do have some influence over, says Abby Grimm, R.D., a registered dietician at FWDfuel Sports Nutrition. “This can include poor blood sugar management by eating too many refined carbohydrates found in cookies, chips, crackers, and white bread,” Grimm says. “If those carbs don’t get used through exercise and movement, they’re stored as fat.” Stress can also increase belly fat, as it kicks cortisol, a fat-storing hormone, into overdrive.
And of course, there’s beer and other alcohol. “Not only does alcohol lead to excess calorie intake, it makes the liver work hard to detoxify, so it spends less time burning through other fat stores,” Grimm says. “This inadvertently leads to belly fat.”
How to Get Rid of a Beer Belly
There’s no magic bullet that will automatically make your beer belly disappear. Similarly to overall health and wellness, all roads lead back to diet and exercise. Try these strategies to whittle down your waist.
Cut Down on Sugar
“One of the biggest culprits of belly fat is sugar,” Shafipour says. “It’s easy to say, ‘cut out the sugar,’ but putting that into practice is difficult. Instead, start by not making sugar as available to you by not buying sugary foods and storing them in your kitchen. If you have to physically go get ice cream, it takes a lot more effort and may deter you from doing it.”
In addition to watching your sugar intake (which includes alcohol and beer, by the way) Shafipour says a simple hack is to pay attention during meals. Sit down, don’t rush, and don’t multitask (i.e., don’t scroll through your phone at the same time) so your digestive system and brain can sync up. This can prevent you from overeating and shed pounds with minimal effort.
If you’re seeking meal inspiration, Grimm says to look to high-protein foods (eggs, nuts, lean chicken and beef), non-starchy vegetables (squash, asparagus, dark leafy greens, tomatoes), and complex carbs like quinoa and brown rice, to build your plate.
Swap the Whisky for Water
What you drink can be just as important as what you eat. On top of limiting beer and alcohol, Grimm says staying hydrated is key to keeping extra fat off. Aim to drink half your bodyweight in ounces per day of water. As for coffee, cap yourself at no more than two cups a day as caffeine can elevate cortisol levels.
Get Off Your Butt
“Being sedentary is arguably one of the biggest health problems facing people today,” Shafipour says. Aim for 30 minutes of movement a day. This can be anything — a jog, walk, bike, or whatever you enjoy that increases your heart rate and keeps you active (check out our vast archive of the best exercises for men for a start). A walk after dinner can also be a helpful tactic for reducing belly fat and keeping you out of the kitchen for a late-night snack, Grimm says. Once you’ve hit a groove, bump up your activity level to 60 minutes per day, three times a week.